Thursday, May 28, 2009

Workout Schedule

My current workout schedule is to hit the gym once every four days to do a high-intensity, one-set-to-failure routine. I've been pushing up the weights that I've been using so I guess it's been effective. :) Every other day I do a short set of sprints. One minute of pushing it as fast as I can, then walk for four minutes, then sprint again. I'll sprint after weight training, then again two days later.

This every-other-day routine is easy to follow; no complex schedules and not a lot of time spent working out. I'm not worried about missing a day, either. Life happens. I don't want to miss more than a week, which I did when I was moving. Moving was a lot of work -- heavy boxes down two flights then up one, outside in the Texas heat.

I've been following the Conditioning Research blog for ideas on my workouts, although I've been reading a bunch of stuff from a bunch of people for a long time. I'll try to pull that together at some point.

I still feel like my sprints are being held back by biomechanical problems more than fitness. In other words, I'm not running in good form. I might have that looked at. My goal in the sprints is to reach maximum effort, so I think that translates to trying to wind myself and keep pushing through the run despite feeling out of breath and energy. My third sprint, last night, was tough -- I was definitely lagging in speed and effort at the end of it. And so I think that's success. We'll see how I do on Friday.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Salt and the Paleo Diet

The essence of the paleo diet is to eat foods that the human diet is evolved to thrive on. Humans have only lived with agriculture for around 10,000 years and are not well-adapted to eating grains; hence the focus on animal foods in the paleo diet. Fruit, nuts, and berries also play a part, but are generally seasonal -- we're adapted to eat them, but generally don't get them year-round.

Salt is something else we're not adapted to consuming a lot of. I bet you've seen plentiful mentions of how high-salt the Standard American Diet is; whether it's potato chips, microwave burritos, breakfast cereals, processed meats, french fries, whatever -- it's got a lot of salt. And yet our bodies need salt. What's going on?

Salt and Potassium

Salt and Potassium work together in the body to assist in moving nutrients into and waste out of cells, as part of the sodium-potassium pump. We need both in our diets, as some of these electrolytes are routinely lost in the urine.

High sodium levels cause thirst; drinking water will dilute the blood and restore normal sodium levels. Very high levels can cause confusion and then lead to paralysis, seizures, or a coma. You're unlikely to every experience very high sodium levels unless you're gorging on salt, so I'll move on.

Low sodium levels (hyponatremia) is a more common ailment. Drinking too much water, without replacing lost sodium, thins out sodium levels in the blood. There've been a few highly-publicized cases of teens or young adults dying from taking recreational drugs like ecstasy -- these are actually cases of hyponatremia. They feel very thirsty, essentially overdose on water (dihydrogen monoxide is a killer!) and drop their sodium levels, which leads to confusion, drowsiness, muscle weakness, and seizures. Sports drinks contain sodium to replace the salt that you lose through sweating to help prevent this. Water is great, but if your exercise leads you to sweat alot, you need to maintain your sodium levels, too.

High and low potassium levels are much less common. Unless you're on a diuretic or other drug that dramatically alters potassium levels, chances are you won't run into very high or low potassium levels.

A Taste for Salt

Most paleo foods are high in potassium and low in sodium. Beef, chicken, and pork all contain solid levels of potassium, and many fruits, such as bananas and especially avocados, have very high levels. Paleo man got all the potassium he needed from his diet, but didn't get much salt.

Salt was rare in the ancient world, and I'd guess in the paleo world, too. Our word "salary" reflects this history -- it comes from the Roman practice of paying soldiers their wage as salt. It's easy to see that humans might have evolved a "salt tooth" to encourage them to seek out salty foods since they'd otherwise get so little of it. (Similar speculation suggests that we have sweet tooths for the same reason -- that high-energy fruits were rare to paleo humans, and if we run across some, we should grab as much of it as possible.)

Salt and the Paleo Diet

The Standard American Diet, in addition to high levels of sodium, comes with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke. High levels of sodium contribute to high blood pressure and stress the kidneys. Is it causal for the rest of that stuff? I don't know.

But I want healthy cells. I want my cells to perform as best they can in exercise, during training, and during competition. And that means watching my sodium intake.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hypothyroidism Symptoms

The common symptoms of hypothyroidism are weight gain, constipation, low body temperature, fatigue & exhaustion, lethargy, dry hair, dry skin, puffiness, joint pain, depression, and irritability. And similar stuff.

The worst symptoms I had, and which I tended to correlate with poor Synthroid levels, were dry skin and irritability. Those were easy to notice. I don't test my temperature (but since it's a good way to measure thyroid function I plan to start, just need to go buy a thermometer), but I tend to be warm. Very warm. People-make-fun-of-me warm, running around the house in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt when everyone else is wearing sweaters, visiting in Winter climates with a think (or no) jacket. I don't think I was like that as a kid, so that might be something that started when I got on Thyroid meds. In other words, possibly my body temperature is running a bit high and I'm over-medicated.

I've never been constipated. I think diet can easily swing one from constipation to diarrhea, though, so I don't consider that conclusive.

Also, my hair has generally been very soft. Women often comment on my soft hair. With the significant changes to my diet over the last month, my skin has also gotten a lot softer.

Probably the biggest thing that I've noticed is the irritability is gone. It's great! I feel like I did in high school, when I remember being in a constant, I-love-life sort of good mood. I remember being happy-go-lucky, up through college, until ... I got on thyroid medication? It's seems strange to me to stop taking my medication and suddenly have the symptoms of the disease that I had come to recognize go away.

So what's up? Why is my TSH so high? There's definitely a suggestion here that I have a thyroid problem, but it's obviously a much more complicated disease than "low thyroid function, therefore you get all these symptoms." I also think my diet, in general, helps many of these specific symptoms: I've always gotten a good number of animal fats and have never been vegeterian or vegan. Now that I'm avoiding grains and other lectin sources, maybe I'm getting much more nutrients out of my food, too, and just have overall better digestive health (which is the point of avoiding lectins and other antinutrients).

I finally scheduled a Dr's appointment for next week, so we'll see. I'll ask for a more complete blood work up. I missed the HbA1c test at the local grocery store last weekend, but I plan to start checking that monthly, and get my 25(OH)D checked often, too.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dehydration on a Low Carb Diet

I'm sometimes dehydrated, but I haven't yet worked out the causes. If I go out for a night and have several drinks, I'm usually dehydrated for the next day or two. Caffeine will do it, too. But I'm not yet a teetotaler, and I do drink tea fairly often, so I've got several recurring sources that might be drying me out.

Is there anything else in a low-carb diet that can contribute to dehydration?

Glycogen Loss

From a comment by Peter on his blog: "there is a marked release of water from the liver as glycogen is lost, but this drops straight in to the circulation. It seems to be the excretion of this excess water through the kidneys, to maintain fluid balance, which takes potassium out with it."

Glycogen is a storage form of glucose; it is how glucose is stored in the liver and in muscle cells. The glycogen stored in muscles can't be extracted to be used by the body in general; it's pretty much locked in there for the muscle alone. If you want to burn off that glycogen, you need to do exercise, and ensure you're not stuffing any more glucose in there -- which means keeping your blood sugar and insulin levels low. Liver glycogen is the result of some carb digestion; both alcohol and excess carbs will be stored as glycogen in the liver. But... this glucose storage isn't really a big deal. As long as you're not overloading the liver with either alcohol or carbs, the glycogen stores aren't a health hazard.

And when you burn off that glycogen, the water that glycogen binds to is released into the blood stream, as mentioned in the comment linked above.

This isn't dehydration; this is the loss of excess water when one first switches to a low-carb diet. If you take a cheat day (I recommend one every two weeks), you'll build up some glycogen stores that you'll need to burn off, too. Dehydration is when there is a low volume of water in the blood; the loss of this glycogen-related water is just restoration of your normal plasma levels. Dehydration is having too little water in the blood, and that's generally caused by something stripping water out.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)

From a page on Chris Masterjohn's cholesterol-and-health site: "Arachidonic acid is necessary for growth, proper hydration, healthy skin and hair, gut health, and fertility." Chris points out (in another page) that he's concluded that only Arachidonic Acid (AA) and DHA are the only true essential fatty acids.

Other than the importance of these EFAs in several "cascades", I wasn't able to dig up specific references to how AA and DHA affect hydration or skin and hair. They're important in cell growth, and hence important to growing children, pregnant women, bodybuilders, and people recovering from injury, and needed in lesser amounts for general repair.

EFA concentration is highest in liver and giblets, especially of grass-fed beef and organically-raised pigs and fowl. This is one important reason to cook your own foods using organic, grass-fed meats; protein is protein, but the important vitamins contained in animal fat will vary significantly based upon the diet of the animal. I aim for grass-fed and organic meats not because I care about the lifestyle of the cow, but because I care about the quality of my food.

Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids

From that same page on Chris Masterjohn's site: "When total PUFA intake or EPA intake is very high, however, the EPA may interfere with arachidonic acid metabolism and contribute to deficiency symtoms such as growth retardation, dehydration, flaky and scaly skin, hair loss, gastrointestinal syndromes, or infertility."

The importance of the omega-3:omega-6 ratio is something that has reached the mainstream media. However, a number of researchers in the paleo community have argued that if you're not consuming a lot of omega-6 fatty acids, then you don't need so much omega-3. If you avoid PUFAs from vegetable oils, you don't need to obsess about getting omega-3 eggs or eating the right other vegetable oils. Just stop eating fried food, fake queso from fast-food Mexican restaurants, and soybean oil-based salad dressings; and don't cook with industrial vegetable oils. Butter and coconut oil are fine for pan-frying and sauteeing, and olive oil & vinegar are good choices for topping your salad (if you don't create your own salad dressings).

Excess PUFAs have the effects listed above -- including dehydration and flaky skin. Instead of worrying about getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, avoid the omega-6 acids. (Arachidonic Acid is an omega-6, by the way, but if you're eating liver once a week, it won't be a major component of your diet, as it is for people who eat a lot of fast food or use heavy amounts of industrial vegetable oils.)


Lectins might induce diarrhea, by pulling water into the intestines; hence dehydration. Food poisoning can also lead to diarrhea and dehydration, so ... yeah, avoid that, too. It's the same basic mechanism, and why you're encouraged to drink a lot of water if you have diarrhea -- obviously you're losing a lot of water, and you need to replace it.

I wish I had some good sources for the lectin-diarrhea link; I'm hunting up some links so that I can make a post specifically about lectins.

This is one concern that recommends a paleo diet instead of just a low-carb diet: beans, often eaten in great quantities by people trying to go low-carb, have a lot of lectins. Many cases of "food poisoning" are actually cases of eating under-cooked beans. Avoid beans, and definitely skip the grains, as both contain lectins and can lead to diarrhea.

And one last quote, which I need to move some place better:
"roughage -- which includes beans -- help people stay 'regular' by causing more cell tears, which enables more mucus to escape from cells, essentially greasing the GI tract" -- PloS Biology in 2006


Saying "dehydration isn't caused by not drinking enough water" misses the point. Dehydration is caused by losing too much water and not replacing it. Dehydration is an imbalance in the blood, and is caused by digestive problems, the lack of vitamins, or overactive kidneys (such as from caffeine!). If you're losing water from one of these sources, then you need to drink more water. Don't drink water just because some dood on TV said so; drink when you're thirsty, or if you think you're losing excess water from one of the ailments listed above, drink some extra -- but if you're not thirsty, don't bother.

Why would our body require us to drink water when we're not thirsty? Sometimes I do get very thirsty, and I obey that signal and drink as much water as I can. If I'm not thirsty, I don't worry about it. When I switch from high-carb to low-carb, I'll try to drink water whenever I get cravings for food; drinking something helps distract me from the hunger. Otherwise... just when I'm thirsty.

My skin is much softer when I'm taking levothyroxine (the generic form of Synthroid, due to my hypothyroidism) and also Vitamin K2, and I usually use skin dryness as a measure of dehydration. My skin has been much softer this year, and the major differences are going paleo and taking K2, A, and D. Tea and alcohol are drying me out, so I'm trying to cut out the tea and cut down on drinking -- which, mostly, is about one night week. So I think I'm doing pretty good. I'm glad for the changes!